Wednesday, April 25, 2012

"Why do you do that?"

“Why do you do that?”  Have you ever thought that about, or even said that to your mate?  Why do we do the things we do?  While a multitude of things can contribute to our behaviors, it is essential that you look at your family of origin because the environment you grew up in—the family structure that (at least subconsciously) taught you what it means to be family—is always at work in your life.  It is virtually impossible to fully escape the influence of your family of origin.
So, whether you are contemplating marriage, or have been married for over fifty years, it is incredible important to understand and be honest about your perception of the family you came from because you will do one of two things.  Either you will repeat what you’ve experienced or you will rebel against what you’ve experienced; and either one of those responses can be good or bad depending on what you are repeating or rebelling against.  To improve your own marriage, you can rebel against a bad behavior you saw modeled by one of your parents.  By the same token, you can repeat a pattern that has left generations of marriages in your family dysfunctional.  You must choose what you will do, but if you want to choose a path to a healthy, godly marriage you must be honest about the “family baggage” you are bringing into your own marriage.
And amazingly, when we look at our family of origin, two things happen (and sometimes, paradoxically, they happen simultaneously).  First, we believe that our family experience is normative.  And second, we believe that our experience is entirely unique and no one else has ever experienced what we experienced.  As ironic as it sounds, it is not uncommon for someone who grew up with parents who yelled all the time to expect that is how families communicate (whether he wants that for his own marriage or not).  But at the same time, he might still say, “You just don’t understand.  You can’t know what it was like growing up with him as a father!”  We believe our situations to be completely unique, but we often have no other context from which to interpret other relationships, including our own marriages.
So how do we process this?  First, be receptive to your spouse’s input.  Your spouse can recognize patterns which originate from your family that you might not recognize yourself.  Assuming that your mate is motivated by God's love and not by selfishness, he or she can help you identify behaviors that need to be maintained and behaviors that need to be eliminated for your marriage to be healthy.  Second, understand how incredibly difficult it really is to change an ingrained behavior, so continually practice forgiveness and grace and humility with your mate.  And third, never forget that in Christ, God can still work through us in spite of our screwed up families to fulfill his divine purpose.  Just look at how screwed up Abraham’s family was, yet he is “the father of the faithful,” or David’s family, yet he was still “a man after God’s own heart.”  In Christ, you can become, not just settle to be; and wouldn’t that make for an increasingly better marriage.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Control Box

Forgiveness is absolutely essential to any healthy marriage.  If you’ve been married for any amount of time at all, you can probably think of something your mate said or did that still quite honestly makes you cringe or makes your blood boil.  (Please note that I am NOT asking you to try and dredge up memories of past offenses.) 
Forgiveness is necessary because your mate is not perfect.  But then again, neither are you.  Because we are imperfect, fallible people we make mistakes.  We hurt each other.  Even the one we love more than any other.  And sometimes, we make the same mistakes over and over, even though we know it will cause our spouse pain.  I am not excusing or justifying bad behavior.  I am just saying that for a marriage to work, forgiveness must be freely given and freely received.  It must become a part of the fabric of who we are as husband and wife and as God’s children.
When you forgive, you surrender control to God.  When you don’t forgive, you surrender control to the one who offended you.  Let me say that again.  When you forgive, you surrender control to God.  When you don’t forgive, you surrender control to the one who offended you.  This is true of all relationships, but especially true in marriage.
You see, we all have a control box.  Your control box is that imaginary box covered with buttons, and when someone says or does something offensive, it “pushes your buttons.”  Due to intense, intimate familiarity, no one knows better how to push your buttons than your mate.  You spouse knows just the right words, the right look, the right tone and body language to use to initiate a response from you.
Now if you hold on to your control box, you remain the one in control.  But far too often, people willingly give over their control boxes to their mates.  (I am not talking about opening the door for vulnerability or authenticity or loving intimacy with your mate, which are good things.  I am talking about immediate, primal responses born out of anger or fear or mistrust.)  When that happens, the one who offended you not only committed the initial offense, but now he or she also has been given an ongoing control over you.
When you forgive, you take your control box back.  You release the situation to God and allow Him to begin to initiate healing and restoration of the relationship.  When you refuse to forgive, you allow your mate to keep a tight grip on your control box and to continue to perpetuate animosity and fragmenting of the relationship.
Depending on the circumstances and the gravity of the offense, forgiveness isn’t always easy.  But as long as you refuse to forgive you are surrendering control of the situation.  Lack of forgiveness is a poison root that, if not eradicated, can run deep and do untold damage.  Take control by surrendering to God and living a marriage over-flowing with forgiveness.

For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.  (Matthew 6:14-15)

If you, LORD, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness, so that we can, with reverence, serve you. (Psalm 130:3-4)

Friday, April 13, 2012

Lucky Charms and Other Oddities in Marriage

When I eat my Lucky Charms, I always eat the oaty things first. Even if it takes 10 extra minutes to finish a bowl, I’m going to save the marshmallows for last. It isn’t about “saving the best for last” or anything like that, that’s just how I do it. I'm not sure why. It just is. My wife, Lisa, finds this behavior odd. Truth be told, there are probably several things that I do that Lisa finds odd and sometimes maybe even irritating.
I would dare to say that everyone has at least a few habits, quirky behaviors, and strange ways of doing things. They may be a part of your upbringing or something developed later in life. In marriage, husbands and wives have to decide if their spouses’ quirky little behaviors are going to be a constant source of contention and irritation, or if your relationship is bigger than the minor things that might annoy you. (Please know that I’m not talking about a spouse's major problems like addictions or irresponsible behaviors rooted in extreme selfishness—just normal, little, daily habits that might not be your way of doing things.) If allowed, these little irritations can become breeding ground for division in a marriage. Satan would delight in nothing more than to take the smallest foothold of irritation and turn it into an impassable barrier of discontentment.
So next time you’re tempted to critique your spouse, just laugh it off together, because what you’re about to make a battleground can shape your relationship for years to come.
I’ve got a feeling that after I’m gone Lisa’s going to eat her Lucky Charms oaty things first, just to remember me. Or maybe not. She may still find that odd.

 There are still a few spots left for the Aug. 31-Sept. 2 Marriage Enrichment Retreat Weekend at
Fall Creek Falls State Park Inn
If you're in the Middle Tennessee area and are interested call me at 615-631-2511 for more info.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Easter Sunday and Marriage

Today is Good Friday, the day we remember Jesus’ death on the cross.  If the crucifixion had been the end of the road, it would have been a sad story.  Jesus would have died a martyr, a good man, even a prophet.  But he would still be dead.  Thank God Sunday was coming.
The scriptures do not focus on the pain of the crucifixion nearly as much as they do the shame.  Jesus bore our shame on the cross to lead us to the resurrection.  In him, we can leave behind the shame and live in reconciliation.
So what does that have to do with marriage?  It begs the question, “What do you need to ‘put to death’ to love your spouse like you should?”  What secret shame, destructive behavior, or selfish attitude or action needs to be eradicated so that you and your mate can live in transparent authenticity with each other?
Obviously, we’re fallen people living in a fallen world, so we’re going to mess up.  And the reality is most of us mess up frequently.  But when you or your spouse mess up, do you condemn and destroy or do you live in a different way?  Just think what a covenant marriage defined by love, service, unity, submission, humility, healing, and forgiveness would look like. What would such a union say to your own family or to your community?  A marriage centered on the cross and the empty tomb will bring a couple closer together. It will also point the world toward Christ and bring all creation closer to its final redemption. Such a marriage is a reflection of the image of God.
Sacred Scripture begins with the creation of man and woman in the image and likeness of God and concludes with a vision of ‘the wedding-feast of the Lamb.’” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, part ii, sec. ii, ch. iii, art. vii.1602) The “bookends” of Scripture present two unique views of marriage: marriage as it was experienced at creation and marriage as the divine analogy of the final reconciliation of creation back to God.
As you observe the final days of Holy Week this year, let it be a strong reminder to let Christ’s death and resurrection direct the way you live out your faith in your marriage.

Marriage Enrichment Weekend
Fall Creek Falls State Park
August 31-September 2, 2012
Call 615-631-2511 to reserve a spot or for more info

Monday, April 2, 2012

A Couple's Voice of Prayer

On March 17, 2012, Mark Frost (who has preached at the Trenton Church of Christ in Detroit for over 30 years) lost his wife of 40 years, Cheryl, to pancreatic cancer.  I only knew Cheryl briefly, but was privileged to be a guest in her and Mark’s home for a weekend last winter.  Cheryl’s hospitality and graciousness were abundantly evident, as well as her conviction that Christ could make a difference in people’s lives.  Among other avenues, she lived out this conviction through her work with Children’s Outreach, an organization that she ran which serves families in the Detroit area.
With Mark’s permission, I want to share a portion of a post he put on Cheryl’s CaringBridge site just a couple of days before her death:

This illness has brought Cheryl and me into a closer prayer relationship. She and I have always had different approaches to prayer. For many years I would have said (pridefully) "different," as in "mine was better." I was the one who tried, with varying success, to set aside a quiet time each day. I had a written prayer list, kept a journal and developed a set routine for Bible reading and meditation. Cheryl did none of the above, despite the fact that all the books on spiritual disciplines recommend doing it my way, not hers. We prayed together at meal times, but seldom at any other time. I had always had a vision of the ideal Christian couple spending hours each day in intense prayer together. I doubt that I could have ever pulled that off, but it was a moot point, because Cheryl never showed much interest in that kind of communal prayer. 
In recent years, however, I've come to appreciate Cheryl's unique expression of prayer. She is not a contemplative soul; she is a "doer" to the core. Her spirituality is expressed through action, and that action is intimately tied to her relationship with God. So while I was struggling—and frequently failing—to set aside an hour each day to be with God, she was engaged every day in a continual conversation with God as she worked in partnership with Him. Now, you tell me whose way was "better." 
Being unable to do anything is frustrating to Cheryl. But she still values prayer. She is unable to respond to a lot of "yes or no" questions, even ones that affect the quality of her care. But every time I ask if she would like me to pray with her, I get an enthusiastic nod. And I'm discovering an intimacy with her in prayer that was probably available to us all along if I had been ore aware of and sensitive to our differing spiritual temperaments. 

In a Christian marriage, shared prayer is a priceless connection that helps bring husband and wife closer together and centers their marriage in Christ.  In prayer, each spouse can hear his/her mate’s most intimate voice; whether it is praise, pain, or something else altogether.  Listen for your mate’s voice of prayer.  Always pray for your spouse, and as often as possible, always pray with your spouse too.

Father, bless our marriages to honor you.  May every couple find a joint peace and a joint purpose in You.  Walk with Mark through his grief, and thank you for the blessing Cheryl was to him and to Your Kingdom.  In Christ, Amen.

Marriage Enrichment Weekend
Fall Creek Falls State Park Inn
August 31-September 2
Limited to 25 couples
Call 615-631-2511 for more info or to reserve a spot